Friday, June 29, 2012

Profile: Chino Hills State Park

Being a resident of Southern California has its perks. World-class beaches, soaring mountain peaks and living in one of the world's five Mediterranean climates are a few of the obvious. One of the lesser appreciated aspects is the relative abundance of natural areas and open spaces. I’m specifically talking about an area near and dear to my heart, Chino Hills State Park. 

For those of us who advocate for native plants and wildlife gardens familiarizing ourselves with our local ecosystems is key to deeper understanding. The last time I found myself exploring the area it dawned on me that it might be both fun and insightful to write a series of blogs exploring some of the many aspects that make up a natural area in this little corner of the world. Insights that can be utilized in many ways by people who understand the importance of what Mother Nature has to teach.

Originally the area now encompassed by CHSP was inhabited by the Gabrielino Indians. The indigenous people utilized the area for hunting game, gathering acorns and elderberries, walnuts, seeds and for other sources for food and shelter. 

Once the Europeans arrived and founded Mission San Gabriel in 1771 the Chino Hills were used extensively for grazing by mission cattle. During the Mexican republic the park was also utilized for grazing by surrounding Mexican ranchos Santa Ana Del Chino and La Sierra Yorba. Cattle use continued until the 1970’s until finally in 1984 State Parks and Recreation officially declared the area a part of the state park system.

Today CHSP is considered a premier natural open space containing over sixty miles of fire roads and trails. The Park’s 14,100 acres contain prime real estate from the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange.  

Additionally the area provides an anchor parcel for the PuenteHills Wildlife Corridor, a vital natural resource to an extraordinary diversity of animals and plant life.

Fortunately for me the western most entrance to the park is a mere 10 minute drive from my home in Brea. In an on-going effort to educate and advocate both for myself and the public, I have made it a priority to spend more time exploring the area’s diverse plant and animal life.

Although primarily consisting of rolling grasslands made up of invasive European species, many native plant species still exist in the park. Stands of trees, shrubs, perennials, and annual plant species combine to make up the parks abundant and diverse flora. 

Several plant communities serve as the foundation of life in the park. They include coastal and alluvial sage scrub, riparian, southern oakwoodland, and mixed chaparral. Micro-communities exist within the latter two plant communities boasting the rare and endangered species Juglans californica southern California black walnut and Cupressus forbesii Tecate cypress respectively. 

Chino Hills State park is not unlike our native plant wildlife gardens in that it is a relatively tiny microcosm of habitat surrounded by a sea of urban sprawl. It is in a continual state of both restoration and preservation supporting nature as she plays out her natural rhythms as they have occurred for millennia.  

Those of us who advocate for the native garden and wildlife owe it to ourselves to support, explore, learn and pass on the information we acquire about our native open spaces. In doing so we insure that future generations will be inspired and continue to be stewards of the lands we’ve inherited.

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